When longtime Lexington County Sheriff James Metts was arrested for corruption and bribery last summer, the entire state was shocked and disappointed. Metts, who was sheriff for 42 years, had a reputation as a model of law enforcement professionalism and integrity and a superb civil servant.
Following a lengthy investigation, Metts was charged with taking bribes for releasing from county custody three men who had been arrested on federal charges with being in the country illegally. The men were held at the Lexington County Detention Facility as part of an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The arrangement allowed the sheriff’s department to house individuals arrested on federal immigration charges until they could be processed and their information entered into a federal database.
The three inmates were employees of Gregorio (Greg) Leon who owns several San Jose Mexican restaurants in the area. Leon wanted the men released before they were included in the ICE database.
Metts ultimately pleaded guilty to one of the 10 charges against him: harboring and concealing an illegal alien. Former Lexington County Councilman Danny Frazier and Leon have been indicted by a state grand jury.
South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio was also indicted in June by a State Grand Jury in connection with this case. Amodio is accused of being bribed by Frazier to release seized illegal video gambling machines. Yesterday, Amodio reached his own plea arrangement with prosecutors.
During grand jury questioning regarding whether or not he had taken bribes or kickbacks, Amodio was asked about his relationship with somebody who is only identified as “Person A.” Sources have identified “Person A” as Danny Frazier
Frazier’s problem with ethics is well-known in Lexington County, a fact that didn’t keep him from being elected to the County Council. Deeply involved in the illegal video gambling, Frazier resigned from the Council in January 2014 after serving for nine years. It is important to note that his resignation came as reports swirled of ongoing federal and state investigations into the conduct of some Lexington County officials.
Greg Leon is known to have a penchant for gambling and has had his adventures with law enforcement before the Metts case. In addition to being fined for his involvement in cockfighting in Aiken County and illegal betting on Mexican-style horse racing in Swansea, Leon has been cited for federal labor violations.
After a federal Department of Labor investigation at one of his restaurants in 2012, Mr. Leon was forced to pay 11 employees $170,000; investigators determined that he had failed to meet minimum wage requirements and to pay them overtime.
Later that year, federal labor officials announced that three of his relatives were ordered to pay $390,000 in back wages to workers at three other San Jose restaurants after a similar investigation. [NY Times]
According to the federal indictment; “When Metts was informed of an arrest and detention of an illegal alien working for Leon, Metts would contact his command staff and other employees to instruct that preferential- treatment be provided to those specific illegal aliens. In doing so, Metts was aware that Leon’s employees were illegal aliens.“
So what was it about these three individuals that compelled Leon to bribe the most powerful man in Lexington County? Why were they so important?
Sources have told Lake and Main that the three men Greg Leon paid Sheriff James Metts to release from jail were involved in drug trafficking. What type of drug is unknown.
This puts an entirely different spin on the entire case.
That no plea arrangements have been recorded for either Danny Frazier or Greg Leon leads to speculation that charges above and beyond bribery are involved for both. The initial charge against Leon carries a sentence of up to five years in prison or one year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. If Leon himself is involved in drug trafficking, particularly if it’s a federal drug charge, the penalty would be significantly more severe.
From the time he was arrested, sources say, James Metts started talking to investigators. He talked a lot. What he knew about Leon and/or Leon’s employees’ involvement in drugs in unknown. How much of his talking will lead to further indictments against Danny Frazier, Greg Leon or others is also unknown. The same can be said for Jason Amodio. What was the price of his plea deal? Frazier’s wife, Wendy, worked for Amodio, and there are rampant rumors in the area about the Frazier/Amodio relationship. Amodio is no doubt familiar with many of Frazier’s business dealings.
It seems likely that something Metts provided prosecutors paved the way to his plea deal, releasing him from nine of the ten charges. Deals like that aren’t cheap. Should Leon and/or Frazier go to trial, expect to see former Lexington County Sheriff and law enforcement icon James Metts on the witness stand for the prosecution.